As the season opened last weekend, the vibe in central Texas was weird. Here was Baylor, under the lights on a Friday night, notching what felt like an important victory. Led by junior quarterback Robert Griffin III,
No one should have been surprised when a Web page popped up just a few days later with a simple, catchy message:
"Don't Mess With Texas Football."
What, you thought we were talking Heisman? RGIII is sublime. But there's a reason why even on a warm Texas night, the mood among Baylor insiders was subdued. Earlier that day, Oklahoma's president had gone on the record, talking boldly of his school's flirtation with leaving the Big 12. If it sounded like the death knell for the league, well, that's how the Bears took it, too. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are courting the Pac-12, a reversal from last year, when Larry Scott did the asking. Texas might be interested as well, which would mean Texas Tech would also get an invitation to the first superconference.
Baylor would get left out.
This is why Wednesday morning, Texas A&M's planned announcement of its move to the SEC was put on hold; Baylor had threatened to sue the SEC and commissioner Mike Slive for "tortious interference." By Wednesday afternoon, the
If you're interested enough to "Take a Stand Now," a click sends you to a page with links to e-mail addresses for the boards of regents and presidents of Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. Again, no one should blame Baylor for acting in its own interest. But don't be confused; that's exactly what this is.
Seventeen years ago, the Bears didn't seem to mind the mess created when the Big 12 formed. After Arkansas' departure a couple of years earlier, the Southwest Conference consisted of eight Texas schools. Four didn't make the cut for the new league.
Baylor, meanwhile, wedged its way in with the help of considerable political muscle. And good for the Bears, even if it never worked out all that well on the football field. As the
But by comparison, check how things have gone for Houston, Rice, SMU and TCU. Only TCU, which is set to move into the Big East in 2012, has thrived -- and the Horned Frogs have been on a long slog to get into an AQ league.
The era of the superconference now seems inevitable, and consolidation is coming much sooner than anyone expected. The shift will create more separation between the haves and have-nots. And a few haves will get left out, which means they'll become have-nots. It's not a fun time for college sports.
Fifteen months ago, when it looked as though Scott was about to slice the Big 12 in half, I ran into an administrator from a Big 12 North school. He knew what was coming, and what it might mean. "We're going to Conference USA," he moaned. The Mountain West was more likely, but his point remained. I felt sorry for him. Even when it didn't happen last summer, we all understood it would happen sometime, and that it would create a much wider chasm than already exists.
As a private school, Baylor doesn't have anything close to the same resources as most of its Big 12 peers. But the difference in revenue -- and less tangibly, in exposure and prestige -- from the Big 12 to, say, the Mountain West is huge. And also, though it's highly unlikely this actually comes into play with Baylor football, there's BCS AQ status to be considered.
That's why Baylor didn't take the threat of Pac-10 expansion lightly in 2010. In the final days of Scott's push, when it appeared the Pac-16 was about to become reality, I was among several writers who received an e-mail suggesting Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw would love to discuss expansion, right now. It was a Saturday night, about 9 p.m. Texas time. McCaw's cell number was provided.
Yeah, the Bears were working hard. At that time, though, the goal at least in part was to be included in the move westward. The other six Big 12 schools that would have been left behind? Too bad. There has been a similar effort ongoing these last few weeks, mostly underground. This time around, the push is to prevent anyone else from going.
It's far more likely Baylor will only delay the departures. The Big 12 appears doomed, no matter what. If not now, soon. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State seem dead-set on the Pac-12 (
Which leads to this quick thought: If Baylor really cares about Texas football, why not get the old band back together? Call Texas and Texas A&M. Add Houston, Rice and SMU. Convince TCU that the newly formed Big Tex Conference (Lone Star is taken) -- no, let's call it the Southwest Conference -- makes more sense than the Big East. Heck, why not add UTEP and North Texas? No, it doesn't really make much sense, and there's about, oh, zero chance it happens.
Maybe Baylor succeeds in holding the Big 12 together -- against the members' will -- for just a little longer. Probably not. In the bigger picture, any campaign by any entity to hold off superconferences seems doomed to fail. "Some things," Oklahoma president David Boren
As kickoff loomed last week, we yearned for a respite from all the offseason turmoil and, more recently, the realignment talk. Behind Griffin's spectacular performance, Baylor pulled off a nice upset and moved into the AP Top 25 at No. 20. It's the Bears' highest ranking in 20 years. It should have been a great conversation piece: a Heisman run and Baylor's push for relevance after so many dismal seasons in the Big 12's cellar. Instead, even as the Bears beat an old rival-turned-modern-power, it wasn't hard to see the role reversal.
As the superconference era begins, TCU is headed for AQ status. Baylor is tilting at windmills, clawing desperately to preserve its athletic future.